Sunday, November 16, 2014

23 Pentecost

Stewardship Sunday
November 16, 2014

The Baptism of Remy Haugen

Matthew 25.14-30

+ OK. I am really dating myself here. But, every time stewardship season rolls around, I am reminded of when pledge season would come to Public Television as a kid. I watched a lot of public television as a child. Whether it was Sesame Street, the Electric Company, Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood, 3-2-1 Contact, or any of the other shows on in the 1970s, it was by far my favorite station. Of course, back then, we only had, like, four stations .

But when Pledge Season rolled around and these shows were constantly interrupted by announcers asking for money, I often groaned aloud. The good thing about pledge season on Public Television was they oftentimes showed films and documentaries they didn’t show at other times of the year. Now I know I’ve preached about this before, but it’s worth preaching about multiple times.

One of the films I always looked forward to seeing again and again during Pledge Season was that wonderful cinematic classic, Auntie Mame.  I always loved watching Rosalind Russell in all her 1958 Technicolor glory. We, in the church, on this, our Stewardship Sunday, don’t get anything even close to Rosalind Russell or even Technicolor today. I could try, but I don’t think it’s gonna work.

Instead, we get the parable of the talents, of money lent and the reward awaiting those who were entrusted with the money, complete with its not-so-subtle wag of the finger at us.  Trust me, I did not purposely pick this scripture for today; it just happened to come up in the lectionary today.  

Actually, we got a lot more than that today. We have something more special than Rosalind Russell today. We get the baptism of Remy Haugen today. And we get a fine brunch served by our vestry today. So, all of that’s even better than Auntie Mame.

But our parable from the Gospel today is a good story for us.  Most of us can relate to it.  We understood how good it is to have people invest money for us and to receive more in return.  It certainly speaks in a very special way to us in this strange, scary and unstable financial environment in which we are living at this moment.

Of course, this parable isn’t really about money at all, as we probably have guessed.  The parable is about taking what we have—and in the case of today’s reading Jesus is talking about the Gospel—and working to expand it and return it back to God with interest.

We, as Christians, are called to just this: we are called to work, to do something with what we’ve been given. And the worse thing we can imagine is being called by that ugly word we discover in today’s Gospel: “lazy.”

Lazy is a word I hate.  None of us want to hear that word directed at us. It’s one the greatest insults I can think of directing at someone.

What is it we ultimately want to hear?  Is it that shaming admonition: “You wicked and lazy slave!”  Or do we want to hear: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

Over and over again in Scripture, we find this one truth: God is not really ever concerned with what we have; but God is always concerned with what we do with what we have.  And we should always remind ourselves that it is not always an issue of money that we’re dealing with when we talk about what we have.   The rewards of this life include many other things other than money—an issue we sometimes forget about in our western capitalist society.

The fact is, God is not always concerned about who we are and what we do.  God is always concerned with what we do with who we are and what we do.  And when we’re lazy, we purposely forget this fact.  When we’re lazy, we think we can just coast.  We think we can just “get by.”  We think we can just give lip service to our gratitude and that is enough.  But it isn’t enough.

To be a "good and trustworthy” servant is take what we have and do something meaningful with it.  By doing something good, we are showing our gratitude for it.

In these weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, we might find ourselves thinking about all the things in our lives we are thankful for.  And we might be expressing our thanks to God for those things.  But what God seems to want from us more than anything else is to let that thankfulness be lived out in our lives.

Today, at the baptism of Remy Haugen, we get to be reminded that, essentially, from that first moment when we became Christians in those waters of baptism, we are called to live out our thankfulness to God in our very lives.

Our thankfulness should not simply be the words coming from our mouths, but also the actions we do as Christians.  Our thankfulness should be in our stewardship—in the fact that we are thankful by sharing what we have been given.  And in that sharing, we find the true meaning of what it means to be gracious.

In that sharing, we find purpose and meaning in our lives.  In that sharing, we find contentment.

So, maybe in the end, we DO, on this Stewardship Sunday, get something somewhat like Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame.  Auntie Mame teaches us all a wonderful lesson—a lesson that, let’s face it, was radical even in that 1950s Technicolor world.  Mame, the radical, eccentric, outspoken, wealthy, party-loving matriarch of the story, learns a wonderful and powerful lesson by the end of the film.  Even after she loses her money in the Depression, after she loses her husband (Forrest Tucker) to an unfortunate mountain climbing accident in the Alps, even after facing her bigoted potential future in-laws—even
despite all the hardships life threw at her, she emerged from it all, glowing and self-assured and strong.  She emerged from it knowing that it wasn’t what she had, but what she did with what she had that made all the difference.  She emerged from it all with a gratitude that glows, in all its Technicolor wonder, on her face at the end of the film. What Mame had was integrity and love and compassion and, by sharing those things—love and integrity and compassion—she found herself.  She found in her life what truly mattered.

To see it from this perspective means to know full well that the things this life throws at us don’t defeat us.  We go through this life prepared when it gives us something extra.  Of course, we can take it and we can sit on it.  We can store it away and not let it gain interest.  And in the end, all we have is a moldering treasure—which really isn’t a treasure at all.

Or we can take a chance, we can invest it and, in investing it, we can spread it and share it. During this stewardship season, we are saying to ourselves, be grateful.  These are the things we have—our talents, our God-given abilities, the material blessings—and to be truly thankful for those things, we need to be grateful for them and to share them.  We can’t hoard them, we can’t hug them close and be afraid they will be taken from us.  And we can’t go through life with a complacent attitude—expecting that others are going to take of these things for us.

We must share what we have. And we must share what we have with dignity and self-assurance and with a graceful and grateful attitude.  We must not be the lazy slave who hoards what is given him, afraid to invest what he has.  We must instead be like the wise servant, the one is alert and prepared, the one who is truly gracious.  And if we are, we too will hear those words spoken to us—those words we all long to hear—“Well done, good and faithful one…enter into the joy of your master.”

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